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How to debrief the unsuccessful respondent

What do you say to the people who didn't win the last major request for proposal (RFP)? Handle it wrong, and you can get angry respondents, threats of litigation and suppliers who refuse to submit proposals in the future. Handle it right, and you can get better proposals in the future and early resolution of disputes - plus, you can win the confidence and trust of vendors.

How do the top procurement people in Canada handle debriefings? The Legal Edge, a Victoria-based newsletter for contract and purchasing managers, talked to Jim Kovacs, manager of Purchasing Services at the Ministry of Health in Ontario and former chair of the Purchasing Council of the Ontario government. His comments are based on many years of experience with large-dollar RFPs and tenders.

Why hold debriefings?

The purpose of a debriefing is to explain why a respondent's proposal was not selected. In Ontario, debriefings are only provided if they are requested by an unsuccessful respondent. RFP documents do not require debriefings on a mandatory basis, nor is it government policy to provide routine debriefings. However, Management Board Secretariat guidelines recommend the practice. As a result, an Ontario RFP advises respondents that a debriefing is available upon request.

Why is debriefing a best practice?

Governments should respond positively to a debriefing request. First, it recognizes that the respondent spent a lot of time and money preparing its proposal. A debriefing ensures that a respondent also understands the reciprocal work done by the government. It explains the RFP evaluation process as well as the amount of time and effort expended by the evaluation committee. In many cases, a debriefing will avoid the possibility that a rejected respondent will take its disappointment to a higher authority - your boss, the minister or a member of the provincial Legislature.

Most importantly, debriefings are good for everyone concerned. Respondents can learn from their mistakes; they can't improve if they don't understand their failings. Debriefings will encourage them, and hopefully help them submit better proposals in the future. And the government benefits by having stronger suppliers.

Who does a debriefing?

The best person is the RFP coordinator or government staff member who organized the process. The members of the RFP evaluation committee can attend or not. Often, a representative from purchasing will be called upon to assist in the debriefing meeting.

When should you hold a debriefing?

Only conduct a debriefing at the request of a respondent after the award is made and the contract is in place. Do not hold a debriefing before the contract is awarded. Sometimes the unsuccessful respondent will try to influence the evaluation process by challenging the evaluation score. Similarly, to get maximum benefit from a debriefing, try not to delay it beyond two weeks after contract award.

What process should you use?

Debriefings can be handled by writing a letter, by a telephone conversation or by a face-to-face meeting. If the telephone is used, be sure to follow up with a brief letter confirming that the respondent's questions were answered and that the respondent was satisfied with the debriefing.

What should you say? - 10 Top Tips

  • If the debriefing is a face-to-face meeting, then establish the rules up front. Make it clear that the reason for the meeting is to explain the evaluation process and why the respondent was unsuccessful.
  • Take time to explain the RFP evaluation process. Many times, the vendor does not appreciate the integrity and thoroughness of the process.
  • Only discuss the proposal made by the unsuccessful party. DO NOT make comparisons between it and the winning proposal.
  • Only refer to the evaluation criteria listed in the RFP. DO NOT make comments on matters unrelated to the RFP criteria.
  • Use the evaluation spread sheet that listed the scores for the unsuccessful respondent. Emphasize the weakness of the proposal as per the score. "Out of a total of 50 points …your proposal scored 25." Do not provide scores for any other specific proposals.
  • Explain where the unsuccessful proposal ranked in the final scoring, but not in relationship to any other specific proposals. Say only that "Out of five proposals, yours ranked third (or fourth, etc.)." Do not mention the names of the other proponents.
  • Only release a written statement of the individual score and/or the final score of the unsuccessful proposal.
  • Point out the strengths of the respondent's proposal and acknowledge where the proposal scored well.
  • Provide advice on how the respondent can improve their scoring in future proposal submissions.
  • Confirm at the end of the session that the respondent is satisfied with the debriefing.


National Education Consulting Inc. is the leading Canadian source for high-quality contract management training and publications. By combining law with practical business strategies, NECI helps organizations minimize legal risk and obtain better results from their contracts.

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